Sophocles’ Theban Plays

Oedipus the King – written after Antigone, chronologically first in the series

  • Oedipus is given a prophecy stating that he would kill his father and marry his mother.
  • He leaves home immediately in order to prevent the prophecy from materializing.
  • Upon departing, a carriage tries to run him off the road; he kills the travelers in the ensuing argument.
  • Oedipus enters Thebes and saves the city from a Sphynx that was tormenting them.
  • The city made Oedipus the King to replace King Laius who had been recently killed.
  • Oedipus and Queen Jocasta marry.
  • Oedipus charges Tiresias, the blind prophet, with finding Laius’ murderer. At first he refuses, but after Oedipus accuses Tiresias of the murder he reveals that Oedipus himself killed him.
  • Oedipus finds out he was raised by foster parents and his true parents were Laius (among the travelers he killed on the roadside) and Jocasta, his wife.
  • Upon learning this, Jocasta hangs herself.
  • Oedipus puts out his own eyes and self-exiles from the city of Thebes.

Oedipus at Colonus written last, chronologically second

  • In exile, Oedipus and his daughter Antigone walk to Colonus, just outside of Athens
  • Oedipus asks to see Theseus, the King of Athens, claiming to bring a great gift
  • Ismene arrives with news:
  • Eteocles has seized the throne from Polyneices and Polyneices is gathering support to attack the city
  • Both brothers heard a prophecy that the outcome of the conflict depends on where Oedipus is buried
  • Kreon is on his way to make sure that Oedipus is buried on the outskirts of Thebes
  • Oedipus renounces his sons and the city of Thebes an asks the King Theseus for protection from Kreon.
  • Theseus offers him unconditional aid and sympathy, in return Oedipus gifts Colonus his body for burial when he dies.
  • Oedipus interprets a thunderstorm as a sign from Zeus that it is his time to die.
  • Despite Antigone’s protests, Theseus sends sends Antigone and Ismene away so that he alone will know Oedipus’ burial site to protect the city
  • Antigone asks for passage back to Thebes to see if she can stop the impending war between her brothers.

Antigone written first, chronologically third

  • The war is over and both Eteocles and Polyneices are dead by each other’s hand.
  • Kreon declares Eteocles a hero and has him properly buried.
  • He declares Polyneices an enemy and leaves his body unburied.
  • Kreon makes a decree that if anyone who buries Polyneices will be put to death.
  • Despite the decree Antigone buries her brother, Polyneices.
  • She is caught and entombed in a mountain, where she ends up killing herself.
  • Her betrothed, Haemon, finds her dead and kills himself in front of his father, Kreon.
  • Eurydice, Kreon’s wife, takes her own life with the news that Haemon is dead.
  • Hearing that his wife is now dead, Kreon despairs.
  • Ismene is the sole survivor of Oedipus and Jocasta’s family.